1. Stephen Curry’s breakout weekend (2008)
Some elements of the Stephen Curry Story were already in place when Davidson entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed in 2008. The son of a former NBA perimeter ace who was largely overlooked in recruiting circles, Curry was already in the top 10 on the Wildcats’ career scoring list as his second season wound to a close. But he was still a relatively unknown commodity nationally … until he dropped 40 points on Gonzaga as Davidson opened the tournament with an 82-76 victory. Two days later, Curry scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half to help the Wildcats erase a 17-point hole against second-seeded Georgetown and advance to the regional semifinals. Davidson pulled off another surprise (Wisconsin) before falling to eventual champion Kansas. Eight years later, Curry is the NBA’s reigning MVP, a star for the league’s defending champion and one of the country’s most recognizable athletes. The breakout performance along the way, though, happened in Raleigh.
2. Mercer shocks Duke (2014)
Duke made the short trip from Durham to PNC Arena to play in the NCAA tournament in Raleigh for the second time. Unlike its venture a decade earlier, when it pummeled Alabama State and Seton Hall en route to the Final Four, this one was memorable for the wrong reasons. The Blue Devils earned a No. 3 seed behind the likes of Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, who both soon turned pro, and drew Atlantic Sun champion Mercer for their tournament opener. The Bears were making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985 and fielded a cohesive starting lineup of five seniors led by veteran coach Bob Hoffman. In contrast to the usual script, it was Mercer that handled the final minutes almost perfectly at the line while Duke self-destructed with turnovers and errant 3-pointers. Jakob Gollon had 20 points, one of five double-figure scorers as the Bears earned a 78-71 victory. They closed the game on a 20-8 run, prompting Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski to visit the Mercer locker room afterward. “If we got beaten, at least we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team,” Krzyzewski said.
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3. Manhattan upsets Florida (2004)
PNC Arena could host another 10 subregionals and one of its best postseason basketball moments might still stem from the first NCAA tournament game played in the building, back when it was known as the RBC Center. With a lineup featuring the likes of David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Lee Humphrey (the latter an eventual starter on two national title teams), Florida was the favorite against Metro Atlantic Athletic champion Manhattan. But the Jaspers, nearly a decade removed from their last NCAA tournament victory, controlled things nearly from the start. Led by guard Luis Flores (26 points) and forward Dave Holmes (12 points, 12 rebounds), Manhattan seized the lead for good with 14 minutes, 1 second remaining in the first half and built a seven-point advantage at the break. After the Gators trimmed the margin to three, Manhattan got it to double digits by the first media timeout of the second half. Florida never got closer, as Manhattan claimed an emphatic 75-60 victory before bowing out two days later against Wake Forest.
4. North Carolina eases through (2008)
The immediate predecessor to North Carolina’s last national champion – a Final Four team in its own right before losing to Kansas – could be breathtaking in its utter ruthlessness. Such was the case for two days in Raleigh to open the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels were fresh off an ACC tournament title in Charlotte and playing another weekend close to home after earning a No. 1 seed. North Carolina predictably ripped Mount St. Mary’s 113-74 as Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson scored 21 points apiece. Two days later, the Tar Heels encountered minimal resistance as Wayne Ellington had 20 points in a 108-77 demolition of Arkansas. There were no shortage of stats illustrating North Carolina’s dominance that weekend. It never trailed in either game, and also got 11 assists and no turnovers in 42 minutes in two games from Lawson. North Carolina also shot 67.7 percent against Arkansas, which remains the second highest NCAA tournament field goal percentage in the program’s illustrious history.
5. Chris Paul dominates for two days (2004)
The past several years were not kind to Wake Forest, but it’s worth remembering there were better times in Winston-Salem. For instance, the Demon Deacons made their only run to the Sweet 16 in the past two decades back in 2004, and did so thanks to the brilliance of a freshman point guard who quickly established himself as one of the best players in a league that was littered with incredible guard play at the time. Chris Paul not only helped Wake Forest tie for third in the ACC in his first season, but also was a major reason the Demon Deacons averaged a league best 82.2 points in conference play. Once in the NCAA tournament, Paul created similar headaches for Virginia Commonwealth and Manhattan in the subregional. For the weekend, Paul scored 51 points (on 15-of-25 shooting) while adding 13 assists and just two turnovers in 75 minutes of work. It would take a truly exceptional backcourt – the Jameer Nelson-led bunch at Saint Joseph’s – to finally bump Wake Forest from the tournament the next week.
NCAA tournaments at PNC Arena/RBC Center
2004 (RBC Center)
(12) Manhattan 75, (5) Florida 60
(4) Wake Forest 79, (13) VCU 78
(1) Duke 96, (16) Alabama State 61
(8) Seton Hall 80, (9) Arizona 76
(1) Duke 90, (8) Seton Hall 62
(4) Wake Forest 84, (12) Manhattan 80
2008 (RBC Center)
(10) Davidson 82, (7) Gonzaga 76
(2) Georgetown 66, (15) UMBC 47
(1) North Carolina 113, (16) Mount St. Mary’s 74
(9) Arkansas 86, (8) Indiana 72
(10) Davidson 74, (2) Georgetown 70
(1) North Carolina 108, (9) Arkansas 77
2014 (PNC Arena)
(14) Mercer 78, (3) Duke 71
(11) Tennessee 86, (6) Massachusetts 67
(8) Memphis 71, (9) George Washington 66
(1) Virginia 70, (16) Coastal Carolina 59
(11) Tennessee 83, (14) Mercer 63
(1) Virginia 78, (8) Memphis 60